Monthly Archives: April 2011

Spring Bulbs. What’s not to love?

Planted once. Little care. Enjoyed year after year.

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Now’s the time to take note of bulb holes in your garden beds. Either draw a simple diagram of the current locations of spring blooming bulbs or use your digital camera to document where current bulbs are planted. Then peruse bulb catalogs for varieties that will spruce up your beds. Watch for early bird specials. Most bulb suppliers offer discounts to gardeners who plan ahead and order bulbs during spring and early summer. When it’s time to plant newly arrived bulbs this autumn, refer to the diagram and/or photos so you don’t disturb already planted bulbs.

Over my many many gardening years I’ve purchased bulbs from many suppliers. I’ve tried the cheap bulb deals and found bulbs of low quality – they didn’t bloom the first year or just didn’t survive.  You get what you pay for and bulbs are no different than anything else. Spend the extra money for high quality bulbs that will bring cheerfulness and beauty to your gardens year after year. The bulbs in these shots, a mix of all types of daffodils and narcissi planted in 2004, were part of ‘The Works’ from White Flower Farm (I purchased the group early at the pre-season price). I’ve also been very happy with bulbs from John Scheepers, Inc. (last autumn I picked up some great online bulb deals from Scheepers – can’t wait to see the blooms). I’ve not once regretted spending a little extra green for high quality bulbs.

What’s your bulb growing experience? Had any luck with cheap bulb deals? Who is your favorite bulb supplier?

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Joene Hendry

The Earth Day Reading Project–joene’s garden style

What have you read in your lifetime that inspired you to a sustainable act or to live green? Can you answer this question quickly or did you have to stop and think a spell? I had to do the later which is why I took up the Earth Day Reading Project challenge – a by-invitation blog meme that asks bloggers to commemorate Earth Day 2011 by sharing at least three books that inspired them to a sustainable act or to live a more ‘green’ life, and why.

I rarely use event days to precipitate life changes. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions or use Valentine’s Day to tell loved ones my feelings. I prefer to change as the need arises and to frequently express affection. Similarly, an annual Earth Day does not cause me to act ‘green’ since this is something I try to do on a daily basis.

But I was intrigued by the question. What have I read that inspired a sustainable act or greener living? So I looked through my bookshelves and dug into my memory banks to come up with a list of reading materials. I’m stretching the rules a tad – apologies to the meme’s sponsor, The Sage Butterfly – my list includes a catalog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I started reading Whole Earth Catalogs as an impressionable teenager. I cannot pinpoint a specific article or issue that inspired me to a sustainable act, but I do recall the general impression that each issue was jam-packed full of useful information on how to obtain more useful information – kind of like a mini-search engine in print. The first Whole Earth Catalog reviewed books about organic gardening and solar power, and likely served as my first introduction and fed my continuing interest in both. My organic gardening seed remained dormant until I reached adulthood but I’ve now gardened organically for more than thirty years (all in Connecticut). The solar seed also took a while to mature but with the recent installation of solar roof panels, my house is now generating more electricity than it pulls from the local electric company (the extra feeds back into the grid). Our solar panels produce electricity even on cloudy days like the one in the photo.

Foxfire Books opened my eyes to rural life among the hardy and self-sustaining people of the Appalachians. The region’s high school students, directed by their teacher Eliot Wigginton, collected stories from elders – often their parents and grandparents – on age-old methods for planting by the signs, preserving foods, reading weather, edible wild plants, gardening in general and multiple other less useable to me topics like hog dressing and building an oxen yoke. Wigginton started the story-gathering project to engage his students in publishing a magazine and, thereby, teach them the required high school subjects English and history. The magazine idea morphed into a series of books about real American do-it-yourselfers. I devoured most of the first five or six Foxfire Books. They gave me a genuine appreciation for the waste-not, common sense of people who have lived close to the land for generations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My first garden design and creation was a circular herb garden divided into four equal sections around a central sundial underplanted with Lamb’s ear. I edged the planting areas with vertically placed bricks and planted sage, thyme, oregano, lavender, chives, basil, borage, chamomile, and calendula after studying the properties of each as described in The Rodale Herb Book. The further I read the more herbs I planted into areas well beyond the circular herb garden. My experimentation taught me just how quickly mint, feverfew, and tansy spread, how and when to harvest herbs for drying, and how to make chive and other herb vinegars. I can trace my discovery of foxglove, hyssop, lemon balm, nasturtium, rosemary, rue, scented geraniums and horseradish to this book. The result of consuming every written word in The Rodale Herb Book? Store-bought herbs are a rarity in my kitchen – I grow and preserve most myself. My kids grew up eating foods seasoned with fresh grown or dried herbs and, now as adults, they welcome any extras I can pass on. I’d offer a link to the book here but I think my version is only available from resellers. Instead, check out Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs.

Two more recent publications also led me to more sustainable gardening practices. Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy which I wrote about last year, explains the important role native plants play in vibrant, balanced plant environments. The other is the clear, concise, easily understood explanation of soil life provided by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis in Teaming with Microbes, A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web. Even a seasoned gardener like me can be wowed by the activity in healthy soil – it’s not just worms and bugs you know, it’s a life system of millions and millions of interconnected fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms intent upon working together to make healthy soil. If you don’t yet compost, read this book to understand why you should. If you spread chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, read this book to understand why you shouldn’t.

I urge you to visit Jean’s Garden to watch for her Earth Day Reading Project post – thanks, Jean, for inviting me into this meme. Also be sure to watch for posts from Debbie at A Garden of Possibilities and Laurrie at My Weeds Are Very Sorry, two fellow Connecticut garden bloggers I invited into the meme (I asked other blogging friends to join, but heh, this meme is a sizable commitment and other responsibilities prevailed). Then make sure to visit The Sage Butterfly for more Earth Day Reading Project links.

And remember … reuse, recycle, compost, garden organically, and seek other ways to make every day Earth Day.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Joene Hendry

Lyme-ticks thrive in Japanese barberry thickets

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This time of year the undergrowth of Connecticut woodlands begins to show a tinge of green. This color is certainly welcome relief after a long winter. Too bad so much of this color is due to invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii de Candolle). This thorny shrub dominates unmanaged wooded areas. Deer don’t eat it and birds spread it by eating and dispersing the shrubs’  prolific fall berries. Japanese barberry quickly grows into large thickets that provide cover for mice and an ideal environment for immature blacklegged ticks -  the very ticks that carry Lyme disease. In their early life, ticks are susceptible to desiccation – they need high-humidity at the ground level to thrive. Japanese barberry accommodate young ticks by leafing out earlier than most native shrubbery. The early leaves help maintain moisture levels at ground level by blocking drying sunshine.

This connection may not be a big deal if a tick simply lived its entire life in a barberry thicket. They don’t. After ticks feed on mice they seek out host number two – commonly white-tailed deer. Fortunately for the ticks, Japanese barberry grows to a height that allows them easy access to passing deer. Ticks climb barberry stems where they hitch a ride on passing deer.  Deer stroll from woodlands to yards and gardens, bringing their tiny passengers along for the ride.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We know this, in part, because of research from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. Scott C. Williams and Jeffrey S. Ward have been monitoring the number of mice, the number of ticks and Lyme-infected ticks, and ground-level humidity in three geographic areas of Connecticut. In each area they have test plots of uncontrolled, controlled, and no Japanese barberry. For control, they used one of three methods.

One form involved torching the base of each shrub until the main stems carbonized and glowed – in effect girdling main stems to stop nutrient transfer. The dead shrubbery was left standing. The other two forms of control involved mechanically cutting the shrubs – usually by brush hog – and mulching cut plant material in place. They controlled regrowth with herbicides or flame from a propane torch applied directly to new sprouts. Note: Torching is acceptable control method for organic land care. It involves heating new sprouts by sweeping the  flame back and forth over leaves until their cells burst –  torching does not involve turning a large patch of land into a  flaming inferno. 

With a total of three years of data now collected, Williams and Ward estimate plots without barberry have 30 Lyme-infected ticks per hectare (the equivalent of 2.471 acres). By contrast, plots of uncontrolled Japanese barberry contain 280 Lyme-infected ticks per hectare.  They report decreased humidity and suspect this led to “a near 60% reduction in the number of B. burgdorferi-infected adult blacklegged ticks,” in controlled plots.

They speculate continued barberry control will result in continued decline in tick populations and, therefore, suggest all landowners, managers, stewards “immediately initiate a management plan to address this alien invader.”

As Scott Williams explained for my report on his and Ward’s previous Japanese barberry-tick study, mechanical control takes vigilance and follow-up. Effective eradication requires proper identification, mechanical removal of all above-ground portions in late-spring or early summer, allowing the shrubs’ roots to use starchy reserves to force out new growth, then killing new growth in later summer. (Again, propane torch flaming is an acceptable organic land care practice.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Do not cut barberry and expect it to die. As Williams notes, cut shrubs send up new growth with a vengeance.

Williams also advises against pulling a barberry shrub from the ground unless it is small and you can get all the roots. Any little rootlet may re-sprout. Again, re-checking for re-sprouting is vitally important.

I urge homeowners to take a few minutes to check their properties for Japanese barberry and, if found, to follow the control methods described above. This, and not planting any more Japanese barberry, may just cut your chances for Lyme disease.

Read more on Japanese barberry:

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Joene Hendry